Understanding the Alkaline Diet and Its Benefits

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on

Broccoli on a wooden table. The alkaline diet is a term describing diets that are aimed at balancing the ph levels of the body.

Proponents of the alkaline diet claim that eating certain foods influences the body’s acid-base homeostasis, or pH levels. It’s believed that encouraging a healthy, pH balanced environment within the body can produce favorable effects on one’s health.[1] It sounds like a good idea, and it is true that tissues and fluids must maintain a certain pH level to function properly. However, your body has mechanisms to keep pH levels in check — regardless of what you eat. Let’s take a closer look at the alkaline diet and break it down.

Much of the discussion surrounding the alkaline diet focuses on the significant changes in the human diet over the last 10,000 years. Until a recent point on our evolutionary timeline, humans mostly consumed fruit, vegetables, and small amounts of lean protein. Once the food industry came into existence, we began eating more refined grains, fattier sources of meat, and processed foods[2] that are high in sodium, saturated fat, and refined sugars — all of which cause inflammation and contribute to serious, chronic diseases.[3] The alkaline diet discourages such foods.

If you’re researching the alkaline diet, you may have noticed some sources describe it using lofty words like “miraculous.” In reality, there are many variables, diet-related and otherwise, that affect your health. In many ways, the alkaline diet is excellent. It’s balanced and encourages the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables. It’s definitely a healthy plan that may reduce your risk of developing chronic, diet-related diseases. But, does it live up to all the claims?

What Is the Alkaline Diet?

Also called the acid-ash diet, the alkaline diet promotes foods alleged to influence acid-base homeostasis in the body. Specifically, whole, raw, organic fruits and vegetables. These foods are thought to produce a “net alkaline effect.” Advocates of the diet say that an alkaline environment within the body helps weight loss efforts, increases energy, and can boost the immune system. However, despite its popularity, the data has not substantiated such claims. In actuality, it’s difficult to say if the alkaline diet has any real effect on the body’s pH balance.

How pH Affects Your Health

To understand how the body’s internal pH levels affect your health, it helps to have an elementary understanding of what pH is. The pH scale runs from 0 (acidic) to 14 (basic or alkaline); 7 is neutral.[4] Pure water has a pH of 7. Sulphuric acid has a pH of almost 0, and is both extremely acidic and highly corrosive. At the opposite end of the scale, lye has a pH of nearly 14. Lye is also highly corrosive, but that’s because it’s extremely alkaline. The acidity or alkalinity of a substance can be balanced with a buffer that resists changes in pH. Alternatively, you can add a substance with a pH on the opposite side of the scale to try and get closer to a pH of 7; i.e. adding a base to an acid, or vice versa.

The human body needs to maintain a pH in a narrow range, between 7.35 and 7.45, to function properly.[5] This pH range provides the ideal working environment for the body’s fluids and tissues. Your stomach is acidic, about 3.5 on the pH scale, and it must remain so in order to break down food. Blood is mostly neutral—a characteristic that enables it to transport various substances around the body without affecting or reacting to them.[6]

The wrong pH in a given system or organ can seriously affect your health. For instance, the inside of your stomach is lined with a thick layer of mucus that protects it from being digested along with your lunch. But, the small intestine isn’t as well protected. Instead, alkaline bile is released into the small intestine to buffer and balance the acidity of the gastric acid secreted from the stomach.

Health and the Body’s pH

Clearly, proper pH is critical to your health and an extreme pH imbalance can be fatal. Alkalosis occurs when your blood and other fluids become too alkaline. It’s a condition that can be caused by liver or lung disease, low oxygen levels, or a sudden loss electrolytes. Symptoms include confusion, lightheadedness, twitching and spasming muscles, seizure, tingling in the extremities and face, and respiratory distress.[7]

Conversely, acidosis is characterized by a high acid load in the body’s fluids. There are several different types of acidosis: metabolic, respiratory, lactic, and renal (kidneys). Symptoms include confusion, fatigue, shortness of breath, and lethargy. Metabolic acidosis is the one you usually hear about with regard to the alkaline diet, but there are other causes of the disorder, such as kidney disease and dehydration.[8]

Diet-induced metabolic acidosis results when too many animal products, and not enough fruits and vegetables, are consumed. Metabolic acidosis increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, and kidney stones. It causes kidney damage, which contributes to metabolic acidosis.[9]

How Your Body Compensates for Unbalanced pH Levels

The kidneys are one of the body’s primary defenses against acidosis. They accomplish this by sending excess metabolically-produced acids to your bladder to be eliminated via urine. They also maintain tight control over bicarbonate, which can act as either a base or an acid depending on what it reacts with. When kidney function is compromised the body is less equipped to control its acid load, which leads to an even higher acid load. This condition may worsen with age if kidney function continually decreases.[10]

The ability of the kidneys to filter acid is not the body’s only mechanism to control its acid load; the lungs assist as well. Carbon dioxide is a product of cellular metabolism and it becomes acidic in the blood. The lungs are able to increase or reduce respiratory function to maintain acid-base homeostasis.[11]

What Makes a Diet Alkaline?

The proponents of the alkaline diet believe that certain fruits and vegetables produce a “net alkaline effect.”

According to the acid-ash theory, certain foods allegedly promote either alkalinity or acidity in the body. Cruciferous vegetables are supposed to be among the best options for promoting alkalinity. Peas, berries, citrus fruits, and melons are also supposed to be base-producing. Processed oils, nuts, refined grains, alcohol, and animal protein are believed to have a net acidic effect.[12]

Top 10 Alkaline Forming Foods

  • Garlic
  • Mustard Greens
  • Avocado
  • Figs
  • Ginseng
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Almonds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Green Tea
  • Tomatoes

Top 10 Acid Forming Foods

  • Lard
  • Peanut Butter
  • Cranberries
  • White Pasta and Bread
  • Beef
  • Corn Oil
  • Pork
  • Potatoes
  • Beer & Hard Liquor
  • Butter

Measuring the Diet’s Results

The acid-ash hypothesis asserts that our bodies steal calcium from our bones to restore acid-base homeostasis when blood becomes too acidic. Advocates claim its success can be determined by examining the pH of urine. It’s true that the food you eat changes the pH of your urine. Meats and cheeses, for example, make it more acidic, while fruits and veggies make it less.[13]

However, research doesn’t support the totality of this hypothesis. Yes, it’s true that eating a very acidic diet will cause your kidneys to excrete more acid, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the pH levels within your body.[14, 15] A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests urine pH is an unreliable measurement.[16] Urine tests only reveal how much acid you’ve excreted. They don’t provide complete information on the internal pH levels throughout your body.[17] You have a lot of different fluids in your body and they all have different pH levels. Urine pH can range from 4.6 to 8;[18] blood typically hovers around 7.4.[19]

Does the Alkaline Diet Work?

To determine if a diet “works,” it’s important to establish the specific goals and indicators of success. Is it an attempt to lose weight? Feel more energetic? Build muscle?

From a purely nutritional standpoint, the alkaline diet is strong. It centers heavily around fruits and vegetables, rather than meat and grains. Researchers suggest the absence of plant foods, excessive consumption of meat, saturated fat, simple sugars, and starchy foods contributes to many common health problems.[18, 19] Any diet that includes more health-promoting foods will better support your health than a diet that doesn’t. However, eating healthy, natural foods, may not change your internal acid levels, which is the entire point of the alkaline diet.

Unintentional Benefits of the Diet

The foods you eat may alter the pH of your urine, but they do little to alter your body’s pH otherwise.[20] But, the alkaline diet does offer some good dietary recommendations. A Tuft’s University study of 400 men and women over 65 who followed the alkaline diet revealed that one explanation may simply be the potassium content of healthy foods, rather than any net alkaline load. Those who ate potassium-rich fruits and vegetables had more lean muscle mass than the control group after the conclusion of the trial.[21]

Many of the foods recommended by the alkaline diet are nutrient-dense, low-calorie alternatives to traditional dietary choices.[21] The diet promotes eating mostly organic plant-based foods high in vitamin C, selenium, iron, and zinc; all of which support gut health and the immune system.[22] Sweet red peppers, broccoli, and carrots promote healthy skin due to their high concentrations of vitamin A.[23]

When you avoid foods high in omega-6 fatty acids, you reduce your levels of arachidonic acid, which causes the inflammation associated with heart disease and joint pain.[24] The alkaline diet also encourages you to avoid processed foods and refined sugars; neither offer any nutritional benefits and both are common causes of diet-related diseases.

The Role of Proper Nutrition in a Healthy Life

The “efficacy” of the alkaline diet may have little to do with pH levels and more to do with the many benefits of eating whole, organic food. In fact, nutrition affects gut health and overall wellness more than any other factor. Combining solid, consistent nutrition with regular body cleansing will help your body be its best. If you’re looking for a plan for healthy eating, I recommend the Body Cleansing Diet. It encourages raw, organic fruits and vegetables, like the alkaline diet. It wasn’t intentional, but many of the foods recommended by the alkaline diet also happen to be the best for cleansing and nourishing your body.

No matter what you eat, remember that a diet isn’t a “lose twenty pounds and quit” kind of commitment. A proper “diet” is part of your lifestyle. You can’t do it for three months then go back to eating unhealthy food.

Have tried the alkaline diet? What did you think? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

References (24)
  1. “What is PH.” Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
  2. Jew S1, AbuMweis SS, Jones PJ. Evolution of the human diet: linking our ancestral diet to modern functional foods as a means of chronic disease prevention. J Med Food. 2009 Oct;12(5):925-34. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2008.0268.
  3. Sebastian A1, Frassetto LA, Sellmeyer DE, Merriam RL, Morris RC Jr. Estimation of the net acid load of the diet of ancestral preagricultural Homo sapiens and their hominid ancestors. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec;76(6):1308-16.
  4. “What Is pH?” EPA.gov. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
  5. Waugh A, Grant A. Anatomy and Physiology in Health and Illness. 10th edition. Philadelphia, Pa, USA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2007. Print.
  6. Policy, Privacy, et al. A primer on pH. n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
  7. “Alkalosis.” 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
  8. “Acidosis.” 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
  9. Adeva, MM, and G Souto. “Diet-Induced Metabolic Acidosis.” Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland). 30.4 (2011): 416–21. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
  10. “Diet-Induced Metabolic Acidosis.” Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland). 30.4 (2011): 416–21. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
  11. Hamm, Lee L., Nazih Nakhoul, and Kathleen S. Hering-Smith. “Acid-Base Homeostasis.” 10.12 (2015): n.pag. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
  12. “A list of Acid / Alkaline Forming Foods.” 2011. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.
  13. Remer, Thomas, and Friedrich Manz. “Potential Renal Acid Load of Foods and Its Influence on Urine pH.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 95.7 (1995): 791-97. Web.
  14. Fenton, TR, et al. “Meta-Analysis of the Effect of the Acid-Ash Hypothesis of Osteoporosis on Calcium Balance.” Journal of bone and mineral research : the official journal of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. 24.11 (2009): 1835–40. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
  15. Saito, M., and K. Marumo. “Collagen Cross-links as a Determinant of Bone Quality: A Possible Explanation for Bone Fragility in Aging, Osteoporosis, and Diabetes Mellitus.” Osteoporosis International Osteoporos Int 21.2 (2009): 195-214. Web.
  16. Bonjour, Jean-Philippe. “Nutritional Disturbance in Acid–base Balance and Osteoporosis: A Hypothesis That Disregards the Essential Homeostatic Role of the Kidney.” British Journal of Nutrition Br J Nutr 110.07 (2013): 1168-177. Web.
  17. Brooks, David W. “Ph Of The Blood – Control Mechanisms.” University of Nebraska–Lincoln. University of Nebraska–Lincoln, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.
  18. Katz DL. Plant Foods in the American Diet? As We Sow…. The Medscape Journal of Medicine. 2009;11(1):25.
  19. Guenther, Patricia M., Kevin W. Dodd, Jill Reedy, and Susan M. Krebs-Smith. “Most Americans Eat Much Less than Recommended Amounts of Fruits and Vegetables.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106.9 (2006): 1371-379. Web.
  20. De Santo, NG, G. Gapasso, G. Malnic, P. Anastasio, L. Spitali, and A. D’Angelo. “Effect of an Acute Oral Protein Load on Renal Acidification in Healthy Humans and in Patients with Chronic Renal Failure.” Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 8.5 (1997): 784-92. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
  21. “Plant foods for preserving muscle mass: USDA ARS.” 8 Dec. 2016. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  22. Kirkpatrick, Kristin, MS, RD, LD. “Eat These Foods to Boost Your Immune System – Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic.” Health Essentials. Cleveland Clinic, 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
  23. Pappas, Apostolos. “The Relationship of Diet and Acne: A Review.” Dermato-endocrinology 1.5 (2009): 262–267. Print.
  24. Sears, Barry, and Camillo Ricordi. “Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition as a Pharmacological Approach to Treat Obesity.” Journal of Obesity 2011 (2011): 431985. PMC. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • L. A. McDonough

    I try to stick to alkaline foods, and eating small portions of lean meats and eggs. I though butter was neutral on the scale.

  • Frank Hopson

    Thanks for clearing up this issue, Dr. Group. I’m wondering if even very minute changes in body pH levels have a positive effect, but as you pointed out, the body has different pH levels throughout all the different organs, and it just so happens that these kinds of foods are good for the gut and cleansing to begin with, which is probably more important than trying to achieve some slightly more alkaline pH level in the body…

  • Cin Hus

    I can testify first hand that the Alkaline Diet does work!!! I have read a few articles over the last few years regarding this diet and basically stating that based on science, they didn’t think there was much to it… and of course I replied. I want to comment you on your article and explaining 4 different types of acidosis! That was educational! I realize your position and understand how pharma has your tongue tied, but they don’t have mine tied! The reason there is so many people taking meds for heartburn is because at one time they took a pharma drug that caused acidosis! In my particular case, it was from pain meds after a severe back strain that ruptured 3 discs. Two weeks after starting pain meds (which at the time I thought was a blessing) I was given an acid blocker Prilosec. A week later my ankles filled with fluid to the point the pain in my feet kept me awake at night so they gave me Lasix. Well, that caused low potassium so they gave me that too, which only caused more problems and I said no more!!! My Chiro sent me on a search for a diet for diverticulitis, a pocket that was created during my first and only colonoscopy, and I found Great Taste No Pain. I was not able to empty my cabinets and replace everything I had, but replaced things as needed. I learned over time that it’s not just food choices, but a sensitivity to preservatives and anti-caking agents found is spice blends and commercial grated cheese. I mix my own taco and fajita seasonings as well as poultry. Individual seasonings don’t have the added junk like MSG and sugar. Because of this sensitivity, it helped me eliminate all of the triggers. I use to get instant heartburn from just one bite! The Alkaline diet is basically no starches with meat. That combination is acidic. Also absolutely no cooked fruits as they are acidic, only raw, fresh and on an empty stomach, NEVER combined with a meal! You don’t stop eating starches, they’re very important, you just don’t eat them with meat! This diet was a godsend for me!!! I didn’t have a poor diet to begin with! I have been gardening and home canning for over 30 years! I don’t eat out of a box and make most things from scratch. I haven’t bought a jar of jelly for over 30 years! I make my own. Because of this diet I was able to get off all meds! I stopped taking pain meds and instead I learned to pace myself and rest my back more often, which gave me more time to research Nutrition! I have had so much success with this that I have sent several people to her website! But an Alkaline Diet is only treating symptoms!!! Acidosis will not be reversed until you cleanse the body and purge the liver!!! All of those pharma drugs and preservatives consumed over time accumulate and build up in the liver and other filtering organs! When you cleanse, you get rid of the acidosis! Global Healing has the best info for cleansing and I send people there to educate themselves! Thank you for a great article! Alkaline diets do work!

  • Shawn Montazemi

    This is the one time I take issue, minor issue, with Dr. Group.

    Obvious, pH diets push basically the same exact approach to eating as Dr. Group’s own Body Cleanse Diet plan.

    I think this might be a chicken or the egg thing…which came first.

    Dr. Group is correct in saying that pH measurements of bodily fluids don’t give adequate proof that pH diets are beneficial; however, measuring pH levels of the body is a measurement of the AFTER effects of the body processes.

    In other words, what your body had to do in order to get its pH normalized and to the level in which the observer is reading on their pH strips or meter is the important part.

    I will quote Dr. Karen Phillips on what the body processes are in order to normalize pH to healthy levels.

    “When the human body is in an acidic state, it will try to shield itself
    from the damaging acid by storing the acid in fat cells. The body
    attempts to prevent the acid from eating holes in tissues. When the acid
    level is high in the body, calcium is also depleted. Your body may make
    fat cells to store unwanted acid for its protection. This process may
    save your vital organs from severe damage. By returning to a balanced pH level, you may lose unwanted fat cells.”

  • GHC Support

    Hi, Shawn. Thank you so much for your feedback. We
    understand your concerns, and we’ll have our Team look into further research. Although an alkaline diet and its effects are debatable, the inclusion of raw fruits and vegetables, or rather a plant-based diet, is key in nourishing your system and providing proper gut health. And since we believe dis-ease starts in the gut, good health will begin there as well; hope this helps. Feel free to let us know if we can assist you in the future.

  • Shawn Montazemi

    I agree; however, since we are basically a small pond wrapped by skin, if our pH falls, our oxygen falls too.

    The reason why Dr. Group’s Oxy-Powder and O2-Zap works so well is because we are all oxygen deficient. Our pond has low pH and is oxygen deprived.

    Then all the nasty organisms set up shop.

    Exercise, which puts oxygen in the body too, is NOT a long-term solution. Exercise does not become enough, it is time consuming, exhausting, cost money (gym memberships), and stresses the body out if done past the moderate level.

    Just like an algae bloom in a small lake that kills all the fish, we are the same.

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